A walk to remember at Kirstenshoch gardens

Budding horticulturists, nature lovers and anyone who is interested in learning about the rich history of Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden is invited to join their free guided walks.

The False Bay Echo joined one of the walks on Saturday November 19, when Jane von Witt, a Botanical Society volunteer garden guide, took a group of tourists and locals on a 50-minute adventure, starting at Gate 1.

Ms Von Witt, who has been a member of the Botanical Society for 20 years, said Kirstenbosch spans more than 500 hectares, but only one-sixth of the land is used as a garden, which is home to 4 000 plant species. She said Kirstenbosch’s heritage dates back to prehistoric times as Stone Age hand axes had been found near the spring in the dell, which is the oldest part of the garden.

In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck surveyed the land and appointed its first forester, Leendert Cornelissen, in 1657 to protect the forests and supply the Dutch East India Company with timber.

According to Ms Von Witt, Kirstenbosch the farm was owned by the Cloete family in the 1800s. “Cecil John Rhodes was the last private owner of the land, which he bought for 9 000 pounds to protect the eastern slopes of Table Mountain from urban development.”

Following the death of Rhodes in 1902, the land was given to the government and became a botanical garden dedicated to the study of indigenous plants of South Africa.

During the walk, Ms Von Witt, takes visitors to the grave of the first director of the gardens Professor Harold Pearson – a botany graduate from Cambridge University.

Armed with refreshments and comfortable shoes, visitors are shown the many attractions at the gardens: the fragrance garden; the Braille trail; the centre for home gardening; the dell; the cycad amphitheatre; Pearson’s grave; the fynbos walk; a view of the buchus; the “boomslang” centenary tree canopy walkway; and the garden of extinction, which displays the more than 1 500 South African plants facing extinction.

Tourist Sarah Pace Moore of Malta said she had found the guided tour both enjoyable and informative.

“We joined 20 minutes into the walk, and we are grateful for the information. If we didn’t do the guided walk, we would have just walked around reading from the information boards,” she said.

On weekdays, there will be 50-minute walks from both gates, at 11am and noon, and 90-minute walks from Gate 1, at 10am and 2pm.

On Saturdays, 50-minute walks will be offered from both gates, at 10am and 11am.

For information about the free walks, call 021 799 8783.